Hatchbacks still aren't all that hot in America, but hot hatchbacks have always had loyal--in some cases, nearly rabid--fans. The Ford Focus ST isn't one of them, as we Yanks missed out on the hottest generation to date the last time around, but this time, we're included in the global party. That's a very good thing.
While it's not the Focus RS, that semi-legendary hatchback that stirred the longing of many an enthusiast, particularly whenever the occasional Canadian or Mexican sighting would come along, since we were never offered that 300-horsepower (in RS500 guise, anyway) beastie here in the U.S. That's still not all that bad, however.
At 252 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 155 mph top speed (electronically limited) and 6.3 seconds to 60 mph, the Focus ST is a legitimate performance car in its own right.
Compared to its most natural competition, the very loosely related Mazdaspeed3, the Focus ST is just about as powerful, almost exactly as quick, about equally good (or goofy, depending on your take) looking, and just a notch above in quality and appearance inside. On the road, the Focus ST is more refined and easy-going--while still just as fast--as the Mazda. That is, in our eyes, high praise--the Mazdaspeed3 was the previous king of American hot hatches.
On track, the Focus ST really comes into its own. Its natural limits of grip, acceleration, and braking, are well above what you can safely (or sanely) access on public highways.
On a closed course, the car can truly come to life--and it shines. Turn in is sharp, followed by just a touch of tail rotation, setting the car on a steady and predictable arc, as requested. At apex, you can almost pick throttle back up, the car's limited-slip differential seeking to apply power rather than jerk the wheels from your hand--despite the hard work the front tires are doing. At corner exit, the almost unnoticeable turbo lag quickly replaced by a strong surge of thrust, though it runs out a bit early in the rev range. Keep rowing the gears and keep gathering speed until you're out of straight or out of room on the electronic governor--the Focus ST feels stable at any speed.
All of these things make for a great hot hatch, but do they make for a great car? As we alluded to earlier, the 2013 Ford Focus ST matches or beats the Mazdaspeed3 on almost every performance metric, but the most convincing victories are in the cabin, where materials finish, fit quality, equipment offerings, and the overall effect of Ford's design come together to make a harmonious, pleasant, modern-looking environment to grab groceries or to snatch apexes. Your call.
For the full take, including more details on the Focus ST, read the full review of the 2013 Ford Focus at The Car Connection.